GOP Lawmakers

Rep. Don Young, longest-serving member of Congress, dies at 88

Alaska GOP congressman Don Young, the longest-serving member of Congress — known as the Dean of the House — died on Friday night. He was 88.

Young’s office confirmed on Friday night that the congressman “passed away today while traveling home to Alaska to be with the state and people that he loved.”

“Don Young’s legacy as a fighter for the state will live on, as will his fundamental goodness and his honor,” his office said in a statement. “We will miss him dearly. His family, his staff, and his many friends ask Alaskans for their prayers during this difficult time.”

During his time in office, Young advocated for long-lasting projects for the state of Alaska. As a freshman in Congress, he fought for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which now carries 1.8 million barrels of oil per day.

He said that the pipeline was one of his biggest achievements as representative. 

“Next to statehood itself, the most historical legislation passed that affected every Alaskan then, now, and in the future, was the passage of the pipeline legislation,” Young said.

Young, representing a state known for its natural beauty, wildlife, ecology and environment, also pushed back against federal control of Alaskan lands; established a 200-mile fishing limit to support the state’s fishing industry; and helped pass the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act in 1997, which set guidelines for wildlife refuges.

He was known to be a proud frontiersman, according to The Washington Post. Young decorated his office with a totem poll, and several hunting trophies including a bear he said he had strangled himself. 

Following the news of his passing, lawmakers and leaders expressed their thoughts and kind words about Young.  

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) acknowledged the large role Young played in his state.

“I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of this amazing man who, in many ways, formed Alaska into the great state it is today,” Dunleavy tweeted.

Fellow Republican and Alaskan, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, praised Young’s years of service.

“Alaskans are devastated by this shocking and sad news and I am saddened beyond belief about the loss of my friend,” Murkowski (R-AK) in a statement. “We have lost a giant who we loved dearly and who held Alaska in his heart—always. Don was coming home to the place that he loved, and to the people that loved him best.”

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) also paid his respects to the late congressman.

“Some of my favorite stories as Republican Whip in the House are about Don Young,” tweeted Blunt. “Nobody represented their state better or with more determination than Don Young represented Alaska.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) recalled Young fondly in a statement released late Saturday night. 

Pelosi said that Young’s “reverence” and “devotion” to the House shown in everything that he did. 

“When I became Speaker of the House in January 2019 and January 2021, it was a privilege to be sworn in by Don – who, as Dean, never failed to honor the special traditions of our treasured institution,” she said.

“His historic service brought luster to the Congress, and his many friends in the House will strive to live up to his towering legacy.”

Young, who lived in the remote village of Fort Yukon, was first sworn into office on March 6, 1973, according to his biography, and last won re-election in 2020 to serve his 25th term as Alaska’s only representative.

The congressman served as Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee from 1995 to 2001 and Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee from 2001 to 2007. Recently, he served as a senior Republican member of both committees.

Young was born in Meridian, Calif., and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in teaching at Chico State College in 1958. While in college, he also served in the U.S. Army, from 1955 to 1957.

He then moved to Fort Yukon to teach native Alaskans at a Bureau of Indian Affairs school. Young taught in a school constructed of logs with nothing but a wood stove to keep students warm in the harsh Alaskan winter.

Young also did odd jobs befitting of an Alaskan in commercial fishing, trapping and even boating — he operated his own tug and barge operation to deliver supplies up the Yukon river. He was also the only licensed mariner in Congress.

In Fort Yukon, Young met his wife, Lu, who he was married to for 46 years before she passed away in 2009. He later married his second wife, Anne Garland Walto

Young won his first public office as mayor of Fort Yukon in 1964. He then served in the state house and state Senate from 1966 to 1973, before ultimately serving in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Post noted that Young had lost some political sway in 2008 after butting heads with top Republicans over a probe into alleged corruption that involved an oil field services construction company and disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. 

The longtime politician was also investigated several times by the Department of Justice including a probe into a $10 million chunk of federal funding that had allegedly benefitted a campaign contributor. 

However, Young continued to be reelected by Alaskans, winning large sums of federal funding for the state. 

In July 2018, Young, who had his own special seat in Congress, told C-SPAN he has “been through nine presidents, nine speakers, 2,000 members of congress.”

“It’s recognition, that’s what it boils down to,” he said. “I love my job, I always have. There’s no money in this job, but I like representing the state of Alaska and being the dean is an honor.”

Updated 12:00 a.m.

Tags Alaska Don Young Lisa Murkowski Nancy Pelosi Roy Blunt U.S. Congress

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